Friday, 27 January 2012


Today I am feeling sad. The only thing I have done is been on a date, and although the date was good, I came home feeling deflated and helpless. So I think maybe the time has come to scribble down some thoughts on sadness. My own sadness, not sadness in general. This will be a bit unstructured, I imagine, but then it's not like any of my posts are shining examples of structuredness.

I was sort of hoping I wouldn't get sad this term. I blamed the overarching sadness of last term on my living situation - I was working almost full time, including 5 evenings a week, and C was working 3 days a week. C would leave the flat at about 7am, and I wouldn't get back until 11:30pm, so we saw very little of each other. I had only just started my PhD, and occasionally I met with my supervisor or attended a session at the Graduate Training School. I went to the library, and once a week I saw a student I was (am) mentoring for an hour. That seems like plenty to be getting on with. But somehow I was in the flat, on my own, all the time.

It's not like I didn't have things to do at home. There were household tasks to be completed, for a start, and let's not forget the fact that I was supposed to be making a start on my PhD. Instead, what I did at home was sit in my chair, with my laptop on my lap, and do nothing. Well, not nothing. I read blogs, and refreshed Facebook, and had fitful, mundane conversations with people on Skype. I ate, compulsively, constantly. I wasn't hungry once last term - I didn't have the chance to be. I didn't even try to work - when I looked at my neat pile of books I felt plenty of things, but motivation wasn't one of them. I felt fear and hatred and desperation and fraudulence. I left for work at 4, and sat on the train with my teeth clenched, gouging holes in my forearms with my nails. I tried not to cry as I walked from the tube station to work. Most days I succeeded.

Eventually I stopped staying at home during the day. I arranged to meet friends before work, and stretched the getting-ready period so it filled the time before I had to leave the flat. When I didn't have time to do any work on my PhD, I felt better. I felt like I could mention the fact that I was doing one to people who asked, and then make a wry face and say something conventional about how busy life was, and how hard it was to find time to do paid work and academic work. People were sympathetic, and sometimes impressed.

I retreated further. I waited impatiently, desperately, for the time when I would see C. I asked hir to meet me at the train station and walk me home. Ecstatic to see hir, I would cling to hir all the way home, and then struggle to find anything to say when we arrived. That was ok, though, because it was always late and we were always tired, and that's a good excuse not to talk. We emailed all day while C was at work, so it looked like we talked plenty. It's frighteningly easy to talk about nothing via email. On the days when C wasn't at work, ze sat at the table and worked while I sat on my chair, with my laptop on my lap, and did nothing. C was quite happy to join me in not working - we ate lunch and played Scrabble, and ze was sympathetic and supportive when I said I wasn't getting anywhere with my work. I felt like a liar.

Then I went home for December, and decided in advance that I wasn't going to do any PhD work until I was back in Reading. My December job was right next door to the local library, so I visited there and read random works of fiction instead of anything remotely resembling my so-called studies. I went out after work a lot, and in the mornings I slept in and watched recorded TV. When people asked me what I did the rest of the year, I told them I was studying for a PhD but was taking a break for Christmas, and would get stuck in when I returned to Reading in January.

I did. Apart from a week away to do a different job, I have been back here since January 3rd, and I have done some work. I have spent most of my days sitting in my chair, reading and taking notes. I have written the beginnings of some promising work. I have seen my supervisor and been inspired, and I have attended seminars and been motivated. I have looked forward to the time when C will arrive home from work, and we can cook supper while we catch up with each other, and then eat at our little table or in front of a film. I have felt happier. I have felt happy.

So I'm not entirely sure what has gone wrong today. I haven't spent the whole day at home, which I think was definitely a contributing factor to my sadness last term. I did some PhD-related reading on the train on the way to my date, so it's probably not PhD-related guilt. I had a lovely time with a lovely person while I was in London, and was honest about myself, so I doubt it's the 'loneliness' which I felt so often last term, while I was trekking back and forth between being alone and being surrounded by people, and not feeling like there was any difference between the two. I don't know what it is. But I know that, for a while, I was back to the desperation, and the hopelessness, and the treacle-like thickness of my own mind.

However. The glimmer of an idea that I had before I began writing this - the idea that writing this might help - seems now to have some truth in it. I am, in fact, feeling a little less lethargic. A bit full, perhaps (I have eaten an entire packet of tomatoes and a bag of cashew nuts), but definitely less hopeless. A bit like I might get up and tidy the flat, or take the recycling out, or put some music on. Who knows - I might even do some work.


Having recently 'come out' once again in another of my social circles, I had to endure a whole new bunch of people navigating my identity, apologising for getting my name wrong, and asking well-meaning questions. On the whole, it went well, and there were no ill-effects (although at some point I will want to write about the minefield that is 'people getting your name wrong'). In many ways, it was wonderful! Inevitably, however, there were a few sticky moments. The most irritating comment came from someone who I didn't know all that well, having worked with him once a few years before but not seen him since. One night at the pub after rehearsal, he said to me "So, I guess you're sick of people asking you this, but are you going to go all the way towards, you know, actually becoming a man?"

So, I guess I should get used to people asking me about surgery.

To be fair, they do it in a variety of innovative ways - rarely does anybody actually use the word 'surgery'. My favourite one came from someone who had just met me, having heard all about me from a mutual friend. Having told me that I was 'not what she expected' and that I looked 'like a gay girl', she asked, in all sincerity, 'will you stay with C afterwards?'

The levels of offensiveness in those three phrases hit me right in the heart. I actually couldn't speak for a moment or two. We were at a party and there were other people around, so after spluttering briefly I think I evaded the question and we moved on. But that was 6 months ago and it's still bothering me now. It's not that I want particularly to be what someone expects, or that I'm offended that I look like a gay girl. In all honesty I might take that as a compliment - it's nice to be visibly queer, even if it's not quite the right kind of queerness that people see. But that final question was too far. Quite apart from the rudeness of it, it enraged me to have my relationship with C taken so lightly. Even assuming I were to transition surgically, hormonally and socially, why should anyone think that might change my feelings towards my partner of over two years? C was there with me at the party, and we were our normal tactile and loving selves, so it's not like this woman thought I had C hidden away at home, unaware of or unhappy with the situation.

But most of all, it's that little word 'afterwards'. There's no need to wonder what she meant by 'afterwards', right? After you change. After you actually become a boy. After the surgery. At no point had we discussed my having surgery. We were not friends. We had just met. The punch was the casual assumption that a) I was not a boy yet, b) I would be a boy once I had surgery, and c) there was no other way to be a boy. And despite all my knowledge to the contrary, despite my conviction that this is simply not true, and despite the plethora of knowledgeable and compassionate people, internet-based and otherwise, who are right there with me in my conviction, somehow it's these tiny, casual, curious remarks which make the most impression on me. I guess this is what they call a 'microaggression'? It doesn't feel very 'micro' to me. Still, I guess I'd better get used to it!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Ticking Boxes

I just came across this entry in my notebook, dated 17/6/11. It seemed appropriate.

Having filled in four pages - no, six pages - of questions about my experience traveling with London Midland today, I rebelled only on the final section. I had been generous with my answers, despite frequent disappointments regarding lateness, slow-running services, and entire service cancellations seemingly at random. I had been generous. But I lost patience when I got to the end, where it asked whether my gender was Male (M) or Female (F). 

Needless to say, I didn't answer. Then it asked for my name, and I didn't answer that either. My reasoning went something like this: my gender is not something I can limit to male (m) or female (f), so I won't answer. My name, whilst to me signifying little more than a convenient way of attracting my attention, may well be used by well-meaning data-inputters as a way of gendering me. They would probably assume I had accidentally missed the gender question, and fill it in for me. My email address would prompt the same response. So, no personal information for you, London Midland.

Which brings me to the real question: why do they need personal information? What could it add to their data to know my gender, my name, my email or my address? I suffered a slight twinge of guilt, thinking "perhaps they won't be able to use my form, since I didn't fill it in fully." Then I thought, "if that's the case, fuck 'em." Serves them right. That'll teach them.

A minor rebellion, but true and mine own.